Local artist Luc Century gives back to the community through his etchings and murals
The moment that changed Luc Century’s life was one of reflection: his reflection.
Century says his life has been shaped by serendipitous events, and the renowned artist’s venture into glasswork was one of those events.
The Sanibel resident was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1955. By the time he was 8, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio. It was there he was exposed to art and photography.
When he was a teenager, Century got a job engraving names on snow skis at a resort.
“When I was 14 I started that job which was about the same time I started photography and then a couple years later I started washing windows,” Century said.
It was during his time washing windows that would forever shape his career: “I was washing windows that summer and I remember the moment – I pulled the squeegee across the window and the lighting was just perfectly situated behind me that I saw my reflection in the glass. I’m looking at myself in the glass and I think to myself “I should try putting imagery on glass.” I just had this epiphany at that moment,” Century said.
So, Century set out to put that idea to the test. Once he got home, he flipped through his local community service brochure and enrolled himself in a stained glass course.
“I signed up for this stained glass course and I remember doing something completely different than what anyone else did: I inserted a piece of positive film which was a picture of myself in between two pieces of glass and then I soldered around it and added some color. That was the first thing I ever made that reflected that vision,” Century said. “I experimented a lot.”
Since the technology wasn’t out there, Century took it upon himself to create his very own photo stencil sandblasting technique which he came up with in 1977.
“I had to determine at first whether I used chemicals to etch it or abrasive blasting,” he said.
After much experimentation, Century went with abrasive blasting which he still uses to this day. One of the projects Century is most recognized for is his name engravings on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. In the summer of 1982, when he was 26-years-old, Century saw an article about Maya Lin who won a competition for the design of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall.
“She was the designer and was a 21-year-old architectural student from Yale. In the article, it said one of the requirements was to add all the names of those who had died in the war which was almost 58,000 on black granite. I had done enough experimenting by then to know that there probably wasn’t a known way in the industry to do it efficiently. I knew that my technique was not known. They were still using the cookie cutter method. So, I thought I had something that could really help them,” Century said.
After reading the article, he got in touch with Lin and explained his technique. Lin told Century to get in touch with Project Director Robert Doubek. Century’s phone call came at perfect timing.
“I called him right away and he basically fell out of his chair. He said three days earlier that he had determined that they were not going to be able to put the names on the wall. The general contractor was not able to come up with a method,” Century said. “They saw me as divine intervention because this was really critical to the success of the memorial. They brought me in right away.”
Century said that the people who were in charge of the project adopted his process while he made the prototypes. All of the names were type-set.
In a matter of months, Century finished the wall which had 57,939 names inscribed on it. Instead of it costing $7 million, he was able to get the job done for $300,000, saving them a lot of money. Once the wall was erected, Century had to go back and add 100 more names which was not an easy task.
“I told them to give me a couple months and I’ll experiment. I was able to come up with a prefabricated stencil that I could actually create in my shop and bring to D.C. and paste it onto the wall and I had to figure out sand blasting equipment that I could utilize outside in front of the wall, while people were still visiting the wall. I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity so I said I could do it, and I did it,” Century said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
All in all, Century spent three years working on the wall. In 1983, he took a vacation to Miami and ended up in Sanibel completely by chance. It was during that trip and after a series of misfortunate events, that he met his soon-to-be wife, Dee, on the dance floor at the Crow’s Nest Bar & Grill at ‘Tween Waters Inn on Captiva.
In 1985, he purchased a cottage with Dee on the east end of Sanibel which he still lives in to this day. He credits his wife with helping him incorporate wildlife into his artwork which is now very well-known for. Over the last 33 years, he has done public art commissions for various organizations around Lee County, donor walls, doors and even housewares. He also donates a portion of his work to countless organizations on the island. Most recently, Century created a granite fountain for the courtyard of the Memory and Dementia Care center at Cypress Cove in Fort Myers.
“It’s all been word of mouth. I’ve learned what it’s like to be of service and how when you give to the community, it gives back which is the hallmark of the islands,” Century said.